So I finally saw ‘The Hunger Games’ . . .

. . . And it was awesome.

Even with my love of the series, I’m not one to debate all the similarities and differences. I recognize that adapting a book to a film is an extremely difficult process, and it would be impossible for movies to completely echo their literary counterparts. What works in print can’t always work in film. Other ways must be discovered to convey certain messages, certain ideas.

That being said, I thought they were darn close. And close in all the ways that mattered.

I’m going to be honest: as I was reading, I was always Team Gale; he was the strong, silent type, and maybe I just tend to like brunettes. Peeta seemed weak and dull. The baker’s son? Even after the bread-throwing act of mercy, I wasn’t really endeared to him. But I couldn’t help but be swept up in their story, constantly asking myself a central question of the series: does Katniss really fall for Peeta? Or is it all a game?

When the final credits began to roll, my sister began to ask questions. My dad asked to borrow the second book, wanting to continue the story, and I spent dinner discussing the Suzanne Collins’ Panem and world-building, plus where the plot was headed in as spoiler-free a way as possible.

My boyfriend was brought into the fold, too, for noting the “steampunk”-like style of the Capitol. And the craziness of its denizens. Me being me, of course, I had to ask, “Did you get the disparity there? Between the ridiculousness of the Capitol — the pink dogs; the outlandish costumes; the gluttony — with the people starving in District 12?”

They did. I thought that was very well done — from the futuristic music laid over scenes of the Capitol’s silly residents to the Dust Bowl-like grittiness of District 12 in present-day Appalachia. You definitely got the sense that people were starving while others were fat and happy, blowing their wealth on lush “costumes” and crazy makeup. Others, like Katniss, were just trying to survive.

{Image via Salon}

Considering I read The Hunger Games two and a half years ago, I was shocked at how easily the details came flooding back. It was heartbreaking to see Katniss and Rue’s bond, and haunting to hear the melody carried by mockingjays through the woods. Though I knew how it would all play out, I was literally on the edge of my seat — or covering my face with one hand, peaking through the slats of my fingers during some of the difficult scenes.

After we got up to go, my sister spoke first. “That was one of the most intense things I’ve ever seen,” she murmured, wide-eyed. And I agree.

There’s a reason this series — and, now, the film — is so successful: it’s a poignant, horrifying story that can’t help but make you sit back and think, This could actually happen. “Kids killing kids,” my sister whispered at one point. “This is sick.” And it is. Horrible, ridiculous — actions so shocking that you can’t help but think, Really? This is entertainment?

It’s more than that, of course. It’s punishment, too. But it makes you think.

Reading and roasting at the National Book Festival ’10

It was with no small amount of enthusiasm that I bounded up to this year’s National Book Festival in Washington, D.C., an event I’d been eagerly anticipating since having so much fun last September. But unlike last year, I didn’t go into this year’s events with a carefully-scheduled game plan. As per my recent realignment in thinking, I wanted to just play it by ear. See where the wind took us. And, you know, where we could avoid the blazing sun by ducking into one of the massive tents before the U.S. Capitol.

But because I can’t totally shy away from my OCD-like tendencies, Spencer and I wandered over to an information booth to grab a program and create a semblance of a plan for the day. Every event requires some planning, friends, or you wind up wandering aimlessly. And doing nothing in particular.

Suzanne Collins, esteemed author of The Hunger Games and, most recently, Mockingjay, was the first writer I wanted to catch. We arrived at the Teens & Children tent in time to see author Brad Meltzer finish speaking, and he was totally hilarious. Humble, self-deprecating — and he even had me in tears while recounting the story of sharing his recent children’s read, Heroes For My Son, with the very child in question.

Collins was the main event here, though, and Meltzer acknowledged that with chagrin. When she appeared following his talk, gaggles of kids began to scream as if a rock star was rising from beneath the stage in a haze of smoke and screaming guitars. A little boy and girl a few rows ahead of us cheered while waving copies of Mockingjay in the air.

It was definitely an event.

Though she never seemed visibly ill at ease, Collins didn’t exactly come across as warm and fuzzy. And while I can’t say I’d be completely comfortable, witty and charming while sweating on a stage in front of hundreds of eager faces, she didn’t really seem eager to chat with fans. While taking questions after her talk about writing life and the dangers of being too much of a voyeur — particularly in regard to reality television — she almost came across as flip, though I can’t really cite a specific example of why. As we discussed later at a book blogger dinner, I don’t think anyone walked away feeling like she’d endeared herself to them.

Since I was already sweating like a pig and it wasn’t even noon, Spencer and I decided to duck into the nearby National Gallery of Art, one of my favorite places in D.C., to cool off before seeing the main man of my hour (and day): Jonathan Safran Foer. We fortified ourselves with plenty of fluids, some turkey and soup and wandered around the gallery, taking in the sights and people watching. Lord knows some interesting folks wander those hallowed halls, and I cringed after catching a glimpse of a star-spangled fanny pack.

Not to go off on a tangent here, friends, but what’s with the fanny packs? Scores of people circled me with the ugly bags around their middles on Saturday, and I’d really believed — up until that point — that it was some myth, a total stereotype, about Americans. But not so. And I honestly don’t fancy myself some holier-than-thou fashionista, but fanny packs really make me want to gag.

But I completely digress.

I was anxious to get to the Contemporary Life tent in plenty of time for Jonathan Safran Foer’s 2 p.m. talk, so Spence and I braved the heat again after a solid two hours in blessed air conditioning. And we did — in the third row! Seating at the National Book Festival is always an adventure, especially since there’s rarely enough of it for every audience member who shows up for each author. If you resign yourself early to the fact that you’ll probably be standing most of the day, things seem to go smoother — and if you do get a seat? All the better. And getting a seat for my man Foer? Priceless.

After catching the end of Gurcharan Das, author of India Unbound, I felt an elbow nudge me. Foer had arrived on a golf cart driven by one of the festival volunteers, and he looked exactly the way I expected: in a collared shirt, casual but still classic; fitted jeans; loafers. His signature glasses and artfully unkempt hair rounded out the look, and I went all stalker/paparazzi on the poor guy by zooming in as close as possible with my point-and-shoot before he even stepped out of the sunshine. Cute, I thought. Definitely cute. Definitely still my literary crush.

But buddy was short.

Your position as Man I Most Love and Want to Smooch is safe, Spencer. In addition to being awesome in a hundred different ways, you’re taller than 5’6″. This works well for me.

I’m a tremendous fan of Foer’s fiction — which includes the stellar Everything Is Illuminated and haunting Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close — but I haven’t picked up his latest work, Eating Animals. The latter is non-fiction, see, and I’m used to Foer the Novelist — an adept guy who really pierces you in the heart through prose. Eating Animals is “a characteristically brilliant memoir-investigation, boasting an exhaustively-argued account of one man-child’s decade-long struggle with vegetarianism,” according to Amazon.

And me? Well, I like meat. Chicken, beef, turkey — you name it, I can probably ingest it. Gladly.

I wanted to gaze upon Foer’s gorgeous mug but didn’t want to be lectured like a 2-year-old, told in no uncertain terms that the way I live is immoral, unhealthy or both. I’m open to new ideas, yes, but I was afraid that given the controversial nature of a book dealing with, well, eating animals, I was in for some uncomfortable talk.

But that wasn’t to be, thankfully. Nor did my fears that he’d be aloof, condescending or “above it all” come to pass. I found Foer to be interesting, which I expected — but also approachable, which I did not. Hearing him read passages from the book regarding his grandmother, a survivor of the Holocaust, was moving — and, as always, I was sucked right in by his language. With one foot crossed over the other at the podium, Foer seemed remarkably comfortable and happy to engage in “conversation,” as he called it, when the crowd was prompted for questions. He answered each thoughtfully, especially when asked by a woman in the audience for the meat industry’s reaction to Eating Animals. His response? There was no response from the industry, actually, which disappointed him.

And I’m pretty sure Foer could read me the street names from a road atlas and I’d be all ears, panting and embarrassing myself in front of my own boyfriend.

But now, now — I was a good girl. No panties were thrown. It was tough, friends, but I managed to not act like a raving lunatic. And though I probably won’t be converting to vegetarianism anytime soon, Foer stressed that stopping the practice of eating meat is not what he’s advocating; it’s ending the cruelty of animals, limiting our intake of certain foods that could harm us, and so forth. Basically, stuff that pretty much everyone can agree is a good thing — whether you’re carnivore, omnivore; male, female; human, robot.

Or, well, not robot; robots don’t eat. But let’s roll with it.

So basically, Foer was awesome fun — and I even spotted Jamie of The Broke and the Bookish in the crowd after seeing her updates on Twitter! She snagged a great place in line to meet Foer later at his book signing and recapped her experience here. Yeah, that sickly green tint to my skin? It’s jealousy. Pure jealousy. Outshone only by the slight sunburn I got that day.

Spencer and I veered off the beaten path after Foer’s talk, winding our way over to E Street to check out Penn Camera. Back at the festival an hour or so later, we snagged seats in the Poetry & Prose tent for authors Allegra Goodman, author of The Cookbook Collector, and Jane Smiley, well known for her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel A Thousand Acres, among others. Goodman was funny and sweet, talking about her writing process and inspiration behind her latest novel, and even copped to being a collector of cookbooks while never actually cooking any dishes. Smiley was interesting, too, though her very long reading from Private Life, her latest novel, began to melt my brain after a while. It was really hot. I was really tired . . . and getting confused. But it was fun all the same.

We wrapped up our day downtown by hoofing it over to the Elephant & Castle, where we met up with some fabulous book bloggers and partook in some “adult beverages,” as Swapna put it! My skin finally cooled while talking books with some lovely ladies and fellow book bloggers, and again I was struck by how immediately comfortable I am with my bookish friends. Conversation flowed easily as we talked about everything under the sun: our own blogs; our “real” jobs; our families; our homes. Audio books. Favorite authors. Modern-day “classics.” It was wonderful seeing Celeste, Cecelia, Candace, Deborah, Heather, Sondra, Swapna and Julie, and I was equally excited to introduce Spencer to the group. Now he knows this whole “blogging” thing is for real! (See photos of all of us at dinner.)

Thanks, ladies, for a great evening — and thanks to the Library of Congress for a great event. By the end of the day I was sweaty, sticky and exhausted, but I would do it all again in a heartbeat. Thanks, too, to my dad for driving us all the way downtown — then picking us back up at the end of the night! He’s a trooper, just like my patient boyfriend. Thanks for spending a humid, book-filled day with me, Spence. I know I still owe you for The Pioneer Woman, but you know I’m good for it.

Many (many!) more of my photos from the event are up on Flickr.


Book talk: ‘Mockingjay’ by Suzanne Collins

There are many things you probably need right now.

A sandwich, maybe; you skipped breakfast again and wow, does that make you ravenous come lunchtime. Maybe a nice nap, too, after eating that big meal. And I’d wager you could really do with an extra thousand bucks to put towards student loans, a mortgage or your addictive book-buying habit.

What you probably don’t need right now? Another review of Suzanne Collins’ Mockingjay.

But before you mark this post as “read” in Google Reader or immediately skip past it to look at photos of cupcakes and baby cows, I’ll say this: I’m not going to review Mockingjay. Not the way I typically review books, anyway, with a good ol’ summary and my extensive thoughts on a novel.

Because honestly? I don’t really have extensive thoughts on this novel — and definitely not those already covered extensively by far more intelligent, comprehensive and devoted fans of the series than yours truly.

So here’s how I felt about it. After months of hearing about some crazy young adult novel called The Hunger Games, I finally broke down and snagged a copy off BookMooch. I read it — devoured it, really — and was in loooove. Out came Catching Fire and, you know, that one was pretty great, too. Action, adventure, a weird love triangle — I was hooked.

And then we have Mockingjay, the third and final book in Collins’ best-selling series. And while I liked the book, there were many things about it that just . . . made me feel very ambivalent. And it took me almost two weeks to finish it, which is crazy to me. Especially since I put aside everything else I was reading when it was released in August.

Spoilers below.

Continue reading

If I had to run away with a book character . . .

. . . Well, I’d have a hard time choosing. But I have a feeling I’d narrow it down somewhere in the vicinity of the one man who stole my heart so completely, I’ve struggled to even wrap my mind around the possibility of ever falling in love with another.

I’m talking, of course, about Marcus Flutie.

sloppy_firstsMegan McCafferty’s unconventional lead in her popular Jessica Darling series — comprised of five books ranging from 2001’s Sloppy Firsts to 2009’s Perfect Fifths — swooped in out of nowhere, gave me (or, okay, Jess) one of his enigmatic little smiles, swung his dreads (he’s a redhead!) around a bit and promptly ran away with my heart.

He’s not the type of male character I usually go for, mind you, though who doesn’t secretly have a soft spot for the bad boy? (It’s okay, admit it: we’re all friends here.) In a typical novel, the boys most likely to capture my attention are the brooding loners (see Eli in Along For The Ride) or the super sexy but, importantly, super intelligent dudes (like Michael in Meg Cabot’s Princess Diaries books or Matt in Robin Brande’s Fat Cat). Also high on my list of “wants” in a hero? Loyalty, devotion, sensitivity, consideration, ability to unabashedly adore the object of their affection. And, of course, extreme good looks.

So . . . actually? I guess Marcus is my type. Because in addition to being wicked smart (he just doesn’t apply himself), he’s witty, unpredictable, sensitive, take-charge, philosophical, broody (God help me, I love broody) and . . . in love. With Jess. Watching the evolution of his feelings for her warms the little cockles of my heart, let me tell you, and I can certainly attest that there’s nothing so irresistable as a man happily, completely in love. Even if it’s not with you.

Provided I could pry Marcus from the stronghold Jessica Darling almost certainly has him under, I’d woo him with my existential thinking, love of literature and ability to belt out a Barry Manilow tune or two. (Or ten. I’d practice well ahead of time, of course.) And as he gazed deep into my milk-chocolate eyes and became entranced by my wild, unruly curly hair, biting wit and ability to talk at length about chick lit and pumpkin spice lattes, I’d drag him downtown and get us on the first train outta here. And then he’d be mine, mine, MINE! (Sorry, Nat. And Emily. Love y’all. And Spence? I’m sorry, too. xoxo)

But if Marcus were just a little too involved with Jessica to succumb to my fawning, eyelash-fluttering and talk about Buddhism, nirvana and cupcakes, I might — might — throw myself at a few of these other bookish gentlemen. Though I’d keep holding out for Marcus, unable to part with his old texts (does Marcus text?), emails (okay, he definitely emails) or throw out the silly, coupley photos of us where he looks devastatingly handsome and I look punch drunk or hungover. Or both. Probably because I’m trying to smooch him.

Just as long as these guys get all that, we could have a reasonably happy if ultimately unfulfilling life together.

Other guys I might consider running away with,
if Marcus Flutie is unavailable or unwilling

Adam from Sarah Addison Allen’s The Sugar Queen: He’s a postman who looks beyond Josey’s shy demeanor to “see the real her,” is sensitive and sweet and a postman, which is cool. And I’m pretty sure he has a ponytail. Hot.

catching_fireGale from Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games and Catching Fire: I know I’ll catch some heat from the pro-Peeta folks out there, but Gale is everything I ask for in a literary dude: steadfast, loyal, intelligent, broody (so broody!) and, you know, sexy. That he obviously has deep feelings for Katniss and will not completely pursue them makes him hotter. He knows she has so much to lose.

Matt from Robin Brande’s Fat Cat: As previously mentioned, dude is smart and attractive — a lethal combination — and is further made gorgeous by the fact that he seems completely unaware of how adorable he is. And when he slipped up and hurt Cat, he eventually worked to restore their friendship. And, you know, prove he’s in love with her.

Michael from Meg Cabot’s The Princess Diaries series: My Michael Moscovitz love is really a post in and of itself, so I’ll just say: I love him dearly, and almost as much as Marcus, but for entirely different reasons. And stay tuned.

sea_changeLeo from Aimee Friedman’s Sea Change: Dude’s a merman. And he’s into science-y things. And he’s cute. Need I say more?

Jacob from Justina Chen Headley’s North Of Beautiful: Broody? Check. Sensitive? Check. Sweet and kind to his little sister? Yes and yes. Okay, Jake, you’re in. Now make it worth my while.

Spencer from Maureen Johnson’s Suite Scarlett and Scarlett Fever: Yes, yes, I know — the man’s name is Spencer, and that’s Boyfriend’s name. But in my defense, I read both novels before I’d even met my Spencer — so it doesn’t count! And Johnson’s Spencer is hard to dislike. Funny but vulnerable, sweet but protective, he’s the perfect brother. And a guy who looks out for his family is hard for me to resist.

Harry from Eva Rice’s The Lost Art Of Keeping Secrets: He’s creepy, unpredictable, intelligent, loyal and unconventionally handsome — and every one of his scenes sizzled so much, they just about lit my fingers on fire. I’ll follow him around London anytime.

Jack from Karen White’s The House On Tradd Street and The Girl On Legare Street: In addition to being a writer (awesome), Jack is witty and protective of Melanie — even when she doesn’t want him to be. And he knows his way around with a hammer and nails. In Meg’s world, handiness definitely equals hotness.

Gentlemen, my bags are packed.

Book review: ‘Catching Fire’ by Suzanne Collins

catching_fireThis review is for Catching Fire, the highly anticipated sequel to Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games. If you haven’t read the first novel and think you just may, skip this review to avoid SPOILERS (and then come back and see me later, of course!).

So. Katniss Everdeen defeated the Capitol, emerging from the Hunger Games hand in hand with Peeta Mallark, a young man from her home of District 12 who professed his undying love for her and saved both their lives with his devotion. Having emerged the victors in a gruesome, terrible tradition that plagues their nation of Panem, a country risen from the ashes of the United States many years before, Katniss and Peeta return home hoping to regain some sense of normalcy after their horrible ordeal.

The only teeny, tiny issue? The Capitol isn’t at all pleased with Katniss’s act of desperation to spare them both — and the fact that the government was forced, by way of popular sentiment, to allow Katniss and Peeta to emerge from their sadistic games together. President Snow sees through Katniss’s professions of “love” for Peeta, knowing that underneath the facade is the young woman — a “girl on fire” — ready to start the spark that will catch Panem up in the flames of rebellion. And something will be done about it.

Again we make our journey with Katniss, our narrator, who is still strong, lean and powerful after finally having enough food to feed herself, her mother and younger sister Prim. She and Peeta’s victory in the Games have brought rewards to their entire home district, providing hope where it had long ago been distinguished. But fear over the ramifications of her actions in the Capitol have replaced the gnaw of hunger in Katniss’s belly, and she walks around waiting for the other shoe to drop. She knows she can’t possibly be allowed to walk around unscathed after her act of defiance, and I waited right along with her.

Who else is waiting? Peeta, it seems — for Katniss to make a decision. Their return to District 12 hasn’t changed his unflagging feelings for his fellow survivor, but Katniss is mired in confusion over another issue entirely: Gale Hawthorne. At some point, her best friend became so much more than that . . . and, despite the assertions by the Capitol and Katniss’s family that they’re “cousins,” thereby posing no threat to Katniss and Peeta’s very popular relationship, those closest to them know differently.

Katniss has so many choices to make — and it’s hard to think clearly when she lays awake at night, plagued by nightmares and too afraid to doze off. Life becomes about waiting — and planning. Confusion. Desperation. And, as the story takes yet another unexpected twist, desperation to save the lives of those she cares about — and one in particular.

Catching Fire seems to have its own embers beneath each page, glowing strongly as the story progresses. Panem’s anger — and the Capitol’s — simmers just below the surface, threatening to blow the entire thing wide open as though it’s doused in kerosene. I had a hard time believing Katniss was so naive as to think she couldn’t possibly be seen as the face of a rebellion, the eternal symbol of hope and defiance in the face of the Capitol’s tyrannical rule. Still, she genuinely seemed shocked over the charges brought against her . . . at least, at first. Then, with dogged determination, she seemed to accept them — and, eventually, embrace them. I like that about her.

The second novel in Collins’s series definitely felt like a second novel to me; we know all about the terrible things that have happened before, and we know terrible things are yet to come. I didn’t feel any relief as the novel opened, knowing that Peeta and Katniss were back in their district — because surely, all sorts of awful stuff was bound to hit them in the very near future. And it did. Similarly, we know another book will follow this one, furthering the storyline as more and more kerosene is added to the flames in Panem. As with The Hunger Games, we end on a serious cliff-hanger — and I dug my fingers into the book as though I, too, were hanging off the edge of a precipice. It was scary.

Though I was unbelievably invested in this book and spent two consecutive nights reading until 2 a.m. to finish, I have to say that some of the plot points here felt very familiar — as though we’ve already lived this before (maybe because we have?). I didn’t see some of the plot twists coming, but I did have a pretty good idea why things were happening as they were (sorry for the vagueness here, but I’m trying so hard not to ruin anything!). It was hard for me to believe that Katniss — determined, brave, loving — didn’t understand it, too. But if I’m putting myself in her worn shoes, I guess it would be hard to see what’s sometimes right in front of us. Especially if we don’t want to. Though it just bothered me, I guess.

A worthy, compelling and heart-pounding read that furthers the plot — and world-building — of Suzanne Collins’ outstanding The Hunger Games and brings up many questions about government, society and media, but don’t expect to find any relief after finishing. That seems as elusive as quieting a mockingjay.

4 out of 5!

ISBN: 0439023491 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Website
Personal copy purchased by Meg

Book review: ‘The Hunger Games’ by Suzanne Collins

hunger_gamesI really had little interest in reading this book — I just want to get that admission out there from the beginning! I’m really not a reader of science fiction or fantasy, and I pay little attention to novels set in “alternate universes” or the future. I’m very much a here-and-now kind of gal — and I spend most of my time traipsing through big cities with 20-somethings figuring out their path in life. In that vein, Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games had little appeal for me.

So why did I pick it up, then?

This book is everywhere. Click over to any book blog and you’ll see folks typing away about it, debating the novel’s various points. To be frank, I caved under literary peer pressure.

And I’m so glad I did.

Sixteen-year-old Katniss is our narrator, a young woman from District 12 of what was once the United States. North America is now Panem, ruled by a group called the Capitol, the all-knowing and ruthless government that presides over each of the districts. Starving and exhausted, Katniss hunts with Gale, her closest friend and ally, to provide the meager offerings she can to her mother and 12-year-old sister Prim, but there’s never enough to fill the empty void in her aching stomach.

In retaliation for an uprising against the Capitol many years earlier, an annual Hunger Games takes place — a fight-to-the-death battle televised live on every battered TV in Panem. Each district “randomly” selects one boy and one girl to represent them in the Games, and this year’s contestants are Peeta, a strong baker’s son, and Prim — Katniss’s sister. Without hesitation, Katniss jumps up to take Prim’s place . . . and then the Games are underway.

The suspense in this novel was fantastic, though not unbearable — and I frequently found myself chewing on a thumbnail saying, “Now how are they going to get out of this?” That element of mystery and fear kept me deeply engrossed in the plot — as did the developing love story. Could I see it coming ten miles away? Sure. But that didn’t make it any less enjoyable to experience.

I was a little nervous about the story’s violence and potential gore factor; I’m a squeamish reader. But I wasn’t really disturbed by the book’s imagery or descriptions, though there were a few whoppers in there. Everything was written tastefully, and the plot didn’t dissolve into merely a bloodbath. For that, I was deeply grateful!

As I described the novel’s plot to my sister, she gave me a wry look and said, “Oh, I’m sure everyone is having a field day examining that book as a commentary on our government and civilization.” And I’m sure many people can look at it that way, but I’ll say this — I enjoyed the book for what it was: a riveting, fast-paced story of family, devotion, love and survival, and I absolutely can’t wait to get my nail-bitten hands on Catching Fire, the book’s highly-anticipated sequel.

4.5 out of 5!

ISBN: 0439023483 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Website
Personal copy obtained through BookMooch